5th Global BHL Meeting, Lorne, Australia


The 5th Global Biodiversity Heritage Library Meeting was held in Lorne, Australia, February 1-2, 2014.   Representatives from each of BHL’s global nodes, with the exception of BHL Egypt, convened to discuss the status of current goals, the formation of new goals, and to work together in forming the overall direction of BHL Global.  The meeting consisted of reports from the global nodes, the election of officers, and discussion of bylaws, technical issues and goals.

The first day of the meeting consisted of presentations delivered by representatives from BHL Central and the Global Nodes.

BHL Central
Kicking off the presentations, Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director, reported on BHL Central’s continued growth.  BHL Central is now comprised of 15 dues-paying member institutions, with a collection of over 42 million pages, and usage statistics that include over 3 million visitors since BHL launched in 2007.  In other news, the latest version of the Macaw software developed at the Smithsonian Libraries is now being tested at Harvard, New York Botanical Garden and the California Academy of Sciences with the University of Pretoria to also begin testing soon.  With this release, users can now upload to a cloud server, after which the files go to the Internet Archive and then the BHL portal.

BHL Africa
Anne-Lise Fourie, Principal Librarian at South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), shared the good news that two more institutions in Kenya have joined BHL.  In South Africa, institutions are sending digitized content to the University of Pretoria for quality assurance.  To date, the Steering Committee has met twice with the possibility of more frequent meetings of the regional representatives to help build and maintain momentum.

Grants and Social Media 
Connie Rinaldo, Vice Chair of the BHL Executive Committee and Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, reported on BHL’s grant-funded projects and on the status of BHL Central’s social media efforts.  BHL currently has four active grants, two of which are about to wrap up and two that just recently kicked off.  Connecting Content, an IMLS grant led by the California Academy of Sciences Library, is linking field notes, specimens, and published literature.  Connie demonstrated MCZ-Harvard’s contributions with the William Brewster collection.  Concurrently, the Art of Life is exploring automated ways of locating illustrations in natural history literature and providing metadata for them.  Led by the Missouri Botanical Garden, this NEH grant will broaden and engage the BHL audience by integrating tagging applications so users can edit descriptive metadata, and integrating that user-generated metadata to enhance access to illustrations.  The two new grants—Purposeful Gaming and the BHL and Digging Into Data—are both funded by IMLS and led by the Missouri Botanical Garden.  Purposeful Gaming and the BHL will develop a game to crowdsource OCR corrections for seed catalogs and transcriptions of field notes.  Digging Into Data will explore new methods for the explore integration of text mining, visualization, crowdsourcing and social media for enhancing use of BHL content.

Social media has been a strong component of the BHL outreach strategy and in 2013 over 36,000 visits to the BHL website came from social media platforms (out of a total of 1.4 million visits).  With recent staff departures, BHL’s social media presence is shifting to maintenance mode and we’ve seen a corresponding decrease in traffic.  A discussion ensued about how best to tailor outreach efforts for maximum impact with existing resources, including recent efforts in the education domain such as BHL Europe’s Historian app for teachers and BHL Africa’s push to teach younger students about the environment.

Encyclopedia of Life 
Nancy Gwinn, Chair of the BHL Executive Committee and Director, Smithsonian Libraries, presented on the recent EOL meetings in Canberra.  The meetings included demonstrations for new tool suites including the recently released Traitbank, which provides the capability to assemble similar traits from across species for comparisons.

Biodiversity Library Exhibitions 
Jiři Frank, Vice-Chair of BHL-Global, reported on the current status of the BHL-E exhibition software and the group discussed the idea of having a “Treasures of the Global BHL” online exhibition.  We’re very pleased that Connie Rinaldo and Jiři have both already graciously volunteered their time for coordination and training, respectively.

Following the presentations and going into the second day, attendees moved to setting the direction for Global BHL for the coming year.  Each of the Global BHL Officers–Ely Wallis, Jiři Frank and Nancy Gwinn–were re-elected to two year terms in the offices of Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary, respectively.  One of the first tasks that the re-elected executive committee will be taking on is the review of the bylaws.

Action items for the global nodes were also identified and will help guide collection and technical development, outreach efforts, and overall growth for the BHL global nodes in 2014.  BHL Central will work with the global nodes on creating new collections of content for inclusion in the BHL Portal and on continued development of Macaw.  Based on their extensive experience and thanks to their existing resources, BHL Europe will develop a marketing plan for others to use as a model.  BHL Australia will coordinate the collection of input from API users to help inform new features and improvements.  Finally, all nodes have agreed to work together on recruiting new nodes to ensure representation of all continents.

All told, it was a very successful meeting with inspiring updates from all and some exciting new directions for BHL-Global.  We’re looking forward to working with our colleagues across the globe on completing the tasks we have set out to accomplish and working towards an ever-growing and adaptive BHL!

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Carolyn Sheffield served as the BHL Program Manager from July 2013 - February 2019. She is currently the Associate Director of Library Technology and Digital Strategies at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She holds a Masters of Library Science from the University of Maryland.